Modern Times: For Richer for Poorer, TV review: Just because you can open a business with your partner doesn’t mean you should

Some partnerships, like that of Cotswolds deli owners Steve and Sally frequently dissolved into bickering matches

For richer or poorer: Fiona Ellis and Scott Hendrie are a couple in business together
For richer or poorer: Fiona Ellis and Scott Hendrie are a couple in business together

If starting up a new business seems brave, then going into business with your spouse must be downright barmy, but that’s exactly what the four couples in this new documentary Modern Times: For Richer for Poorer had done. According to the voiceover half a million new businesses are launched in this country every year and 40 per cent of them by couples, but this film was more telling on the dynamics of individual marriages than any larger economic trend.

Some partnerships, like that of Cotswolds deli owners Steve and Sally, demonstrated an impressive balance of business acumen and creativity, yet still frequently dissolved into bickering matches. That’s because he was in charge of the books, leaving her free to dream up new, exotic and entirely uncosted quiche recipes. At the Jamaican Patty Co restaurant in central London, Andrew’s plans to expand into a chain were thwarted by his wife Theresa’s stubborn/principled (delete according to gender) insistence that non-Jamaican factory workers cannot be trusted to make a decent chicken and dumpling stew.

In Canterbury, meanwhile, customers seemed confused by the very concept of Barry and Vicky’s furniture shop-meets-baking school. Their business plan may have been very shaky, but after 40 years and five kids, their relationship was rock solid. It even survived Barry’s ego-bruising realisation that if Vicky’s baking school was to have any chance of breaking even, his cherished furniture would have to vacate the premises. “It’s worked out quite well, hasn’t it?” remarked a cheery Vicky. “Apart from we haven’t made any money.”

There were a few cutaways of husbands casting bewildered looks to camera or wives rolling their eyes in despair, but for the most part this documentary went beyond the cheesy war-of-the sexes format in favour of genuine insights into the workings of working relationships. Increasingly intimate revelations were prised forth by a series of cheeky observations that issued from behind the camera (director Guy Gilbert, presumably) “I wouldn’t necessarily put you two together,” said the voice to Brave Boutique owners Fiona and Scott. “You’re quite calm and down to earth and…. [to Fiona] you’re not.”

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